Hands up all who remember - or preferably purchased - an album entitled Sticky Tape and Rust? Not only was it the very first release on the delightful Mega Dodo label but it was also our introduction to a certain Mr. Mordecai Smyth.
And a fine introduction it was. Chock full of knowing and sometimes darkly humorous vignettes on numerous topics including lycanthropy, murder and cycling sorceresses, all of them evoking The Idle Race or a Village Green-era Kinks with effortless ease. Toytown psych, one might say, with Mayor of Toytown Mordecai pulling the strings.
Still, that was 2011, so what's been happening since? Apart from a couple of EPs and appearances on compilations here and there, things have been a little quiet on the Mordecai front. However, those in the know were given to understand that Mr. Smyth was not resting on his laurels and was, in fact, toiling on something rather different. But what, exactly? Well, the wait is over...and it is my unfortunate duty to inform you that The Mayor of Toytown is Dead.
But this is no cause for sadness: Mordecai is still very much with us, although the short, sharp numbers of those Sticky Tape days have gone. They're longer now but still with hooks aplenty - accessible and challenging in the best tradition of progressive rock. Mordecai prefers it to be known as "regressive rock." (If you get the chance, do ask him and I'm sure he'll tell you why.)
He's also called upon the assistance of a wide pool of talents. Among them is Dave Lambert (Strawbs, The Fire) who contributes lead guitar to the album's opening and closing tracks. There's the South West's finest, Icarus Peel and Crystal Jacqueline. Long time friends Darren Medland and Martin Simmonds are in there too, as are guest vocalists Catherine Earnshaw and Deborah Pike, plus many more who helped to shape the album you hold in your hands. And let's not forget Tabitha Smyth: her woodwind stylings were among the highlights of Sticky Tape and Rust, and it could be argued that this time around they've truly found their spiritual home.
So, pull up a chair - or an elongated sofa, if you wish - and have a listen. You know it's what the good Mayor would have wanted.
I’m pleased to hear more from Icarus Peel, whose music I’ve only become acquainted with in the past year through his work with The Honey Pot and Crystal Jacqueline. Aunty Powders Her Nose features bouncy Pop-Psych that’s firmly in the Syd-Floyd realm. It’s well produced, with tasty guitar and keyboard arrangements and appropriate placed effects. Almost Murder Ballad is a Mordecai Smyth cover, with killer ripping psych guitar on this dark, doomy, and lightly orchestrated bit of twisted Psychedelia. Peel shares vocal duties with a female singer that I don’t see mentioned in the promo sheet but I’m sure is Crystal Jacqueline. The horn solo is a nice touch too. And speaking of Crystal Jacqueline, that’s the title of Peel’s final entry, a cool grooving 60s West Coast Psych inspired song that’s like a cross between Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.
I was previously unfamiliar with Mordecai Smyth but these three songs left me interested in checking him out further. Out In The Stars is a soulful Pop-Psych tune with an R&B edge and a Beatles feel during the instrumental break. Smyth reciprocates with a tip of the hat to Peel by covering his song Plastic People. The music begins like it’s going to blast off into space, but quickly becomes a freaky brand of what I’ll call Carnival-Psych. It’s weirdly fun, with piano, flute and effects, and has the briefest of moments when it threatens to explode into something heavier. Finally, Drifted Along is a dreamy but grooving song, once again with an underlying R&B feel, which is offset by flowing Mellotron-like keys. I like the interesting contrasts that all come together nicely.
Mega Dodo is the emcee for a Battle of the Bands double b-side 10″ between UK psych-popsters Icarus Peel and Mordecai Smyth under the nom de guerre Barnburner. Both are busy men: Mordecai Smyth is coming out of his corner after Dial ‘M’ for Mordecai, while Icarus Peel summons his strength after his recent Sing!! and throwing punches on Crystal Jacqueline’s Sun Arise as well as maintaining a head of steam with The Honey Pot. Contributing 3 songs each, Peel and Smyth go toe-to-toe with their respective brands of decidedly English psych pop. Being that both are consummate professionals and gentlemen, they’ve also covered each other; Peel takes on Smyth’s Almost Murder Ballad while Smyth works out on Peel’s Plastic People. Peel’s other contributions, Auntie Powders Her Nose and Crystal Jacqueline are prime Peel. Auntie Powders Her Nose has a healthy dollop of ’60s psych whimsy conjuring up the spirit of a time when pop was populated with characters like Arnold Layne. Crystal Jacqueline … if you’re familiar with Icarus in any level and his day-jobs, then you can guess what that slice of summery fancy is all about. On the other side of the canvas, we find Smyth in a more pensive mood, though by no means dour. Out In The Stars is an open invitation to ‘set sail down the river’ with a slightly bittersweet mix of nostalgia, melancholy and resignation. Plastic People is the counter-punch to Auntie Powders Her Nose, replete with confetti, Timbuktu and perfectly wasted time. It may be Peel’s glove, but Smyth’s paw slips right in as snug as if it were his own. Smyth provides the last round with the wonderfully floating and fluid Drifted Along, a tune that delivers just what the title promises. Despite its lyrical twist of fate and fortune, it’s a perfect send off and in its own way proves that what’s been flying around more than punches is respect.
Sunrise Ocean Bender
And talking of that Mordecai Smyth / Icarus Peel face off here’s the ‘Barnburner’ EP. Described by the Mega Dodo publicity house as the world’s first double b side split 10 inch this outing comes strictly limited as a 100 only pressing on – yep you guessed it 10 inches of heavy duty wax. Upon the grooves 4 cuts of smoked sixties seasonings with each of the contenders admirably acquitting themselves and stamping their weird psych credentials with two tracks apiece. First up Icarus Peel tunes your head inside out with the kookified kaleidoscopia ‘Auntie powders her nose’ which aside being warped and wonky sounds like tomorrow channelling the spirit of Syd albeit here as though refried by a not so much chameleonic but magpie nicking Deram era pre spaceboy 70’s glam deity Bowie. Stranger still is the weirded out ‘almost murder ballad’ – the Peel ones take on a Mr Smyth gem – an impishly macabre murder ballad inscribed in a coolly creepy ‘dark shadows’ styled wonkiness, an Addams Family variant on Nancy and Lee if you must featuring CJ herself hatching dark deeds to the frying backdrop of funhouse sounds of disturbia – quite priceless and much in need of hearing if you ask me. The breezy eyed and coolly tranquil ‘Crystalline Jacqueline’ rounds up Mr Peel’s trio of tasters all succulently dimpled in murmuring early 70’s trippyness. Mr Smyth opens his account with the aforementioned ’out in the stars’ (see the previous ’Evolver’ critique) whilst his take on Mr Peel‘s ‘plastic people’ finds his normally crooked though demurred colouring somewhat dulled and in its place a spiky if not impatient irritation seething in desperation through the floral forays – themselves finding bedfellows with the likes of freed unit and the beatnik filmstars. Last but by no means least ‘drifted along’ is cradled in a becoming bruised baroque / gothica majesty that succulently glides head bowed to a waltz time withering and darkly set grandeur – scarcely a dry eye in the house.
The Sunday Experience
Honey Pot singer/songwriter Peel previously recorded a double EP for Fruits De Mer with ex-Honey Pot vocalist, Crystal Jacqueline. To add to the confusion, one of his three tracks here is the autobiographical 'Crystal Jacqueline', a lovely pop ditty with a 'Moonlight Mile' guitar riff running around a Geldofian vocal. 'Aunty Powders Her Nose' is a spacey, synth-swashed psych delight with unusual time signatures and Syd Barrett influences aplenty, although the guitar noodling and ham-fisted vocals are a bit overbearing on his cover of Smyth's 'Almost Murder Ballad'.
Smyth's tracks are a little less accessible. Trainspotters will enjoy Neil Young's 'Country Girl' riff sneaking a peek out from behind 'Out In The Stars', but his cover of Peel's 'Plastic People' is angry and tuneless. The Moodies-styled 'Drifted Along' benefits from a dreamy Mellotron backing, but Smyth's vocals are weak and the track is ultimately forgettable.
Mordecai Smyth’s contributions comes across as material more grounded, closer to the common man if you like, material with more of a down to earth mood and atmosphere. Out in the Stars a pleasant, slow paced case of careful psychedelic effects and bubbly organ in a 60’s psychedelic pop song, Plastic People a darker, more acidic folk-oriented affair with Mellotron and flute both given ample room to produce or enhance atmospheres alongside guitars, intriguing but not a creation I think is of an elevated quality, and much the same can be said about the lighter tones and moods explored on Drifted Away, again with Mellotron used as a mood enhancer. A pleasant and charming tune.
House of Prog
Olav Martin Bjørnsen / June 29, 2015
Dial M For Mordecai' reviews
Pressed on glorious orange vinyl (yes, I am a sucker for this kinda stuff), the latest EP from Mordecai Smyth contains four fine examples of sixties UK psych, coils of incense smoke curling around the shadows of The Idle Race, Pretty Things or Apple. Opening in style “Dream On (marnie)”, is a tale of a girl who wants to dream the day away, the tune awash with woozy strings, the perfect guitar tones/vocal stylings and an arrangement that allows the tune to flow freely creating a truly memorable three minutes. Despite being called “Psychedelic Sarah” there is a more pop edge to the next tune, More Hollies than Floyd, although the lyrics are suitably trippy and the song is still an excellent example of pop music clothed in a lysergic cloak of many colours. Upping the energy level, “Dark Haired Douglas” has some fine freakbeat guitar, a tale of an old school scoundrel and a girl from the in-crowd, she completely blanking his advances as the world changes its point of view. Finally, “Trapped” has a wandering Doors inspired organ, phased vocals and loads of attitude rounding of a great retro collection, proving that psychedelic music still exists in all its guises. Also released from the band, but not currently available is “Georgina Jones” (yet another name), a two track single on lovely purple wax, in the same style it is well worth hunting down.
Hot on the heels of their last album “Sticky Tape and Rust“, Mordecai Smyth release their new EP “Dial M for Mordecai”. Their English style take on psych pop blends Ray Davies style vignettes, sixties influences and a smidgen of Madness.
Kicking off these 5 tracks is the infectious “Dream On”. With their signature jaunty backing and mellotrons you almost expect the song to segue into Dead End Street on this tale on a dreamy outsider. “Psychedelic Sarah” continues the theme and is just as enjoyable. “Dark Haired Douglas” a tale of unlucky in love guy is symbolic of the group’s sound; stripped back pop psych giving the opportunity of hearing strong melodies and character studies of a cast of odd ball heroes.
“Trapped” twists elements of Keep on Running with I Had To Much To Dream put through the Mordecai filter.
Finishing off with a Kinks Kover, “See My Friends” is apt and is like an ode to the band’s cast of song characters. Squeezing sitar laden Norwegian Wood into the middle is inspired too.
It’s a great way for Mordecai Smyth to round off another extremely enjoyable record. Why not enter their world and purchase a splendid piece of orange vinyl.
Following an album called Sticky Tape & Rust with one that references Hitchcock, you might expect something morbid or obsessed with pushing up the daisies, or at the very least tying things up in the trunk for safe keeping…to be used later. What we do get is Berkshire’s Mordecai Smyth going for Alfred’s wry wink instead and pushing up new daisies of the vintage psych pop kind. Mining and sprouting in the fertile soil of timeless English psychedelia, Dial M For Mordecai is a thoroughly captivating, and regardless of the baggage of the word, charming set of nuggets. Eschewing slathering on the fuzz or excessive knob-twiddling for effect, Smyth keep the production open, bright and with the sun shining directly on the songs. Name checking The Who, Ayers, Barrett, Stanshall, and The Kinks, you know they hold the song in the highest regard. That also means they don’t shy away from liquorice flavored eccentricity. It’s not surprising that the most overt Beatles reference comes to light in See My Friends, because that’s probably how Smyth sees their predecessors and what their songs couldn’t help become to them. It follows that Dial M For Mordecai revels in an ease and familiarity that breeds comfort. It’s nigh on impossible to not take the cheer to heart. And they pull it all off without sinking into twee whimsy or a slightness that would cause the whole outing to vaporize in a cloud of powdered sugar. Dream On and Dark Haired Douglas roll out so effortlessly and buoyantly that it’s easy—and forgivable—to not catch the darker lyric filling inside the bun that keeps it more substantial than you might think. Who doesn’t love their sweets, but you got to have something stick to your ribs, and between your teeth if you’re lucky. Smyth’s classic pop savvy and melodious confidence give it that staying power, the kind that can get stuck in your head, too.
Sunrise Ocean Bender
This brilliantly titled four-track EP continues in a similar ‘vintage psychedelic pop’ vein to Smyth’s splendid Sticky Tape & Rust debut LP of last year.
“Dream On” meets Sgt Pepper’s and late-’60s Kinks halfway, treating its sublime, sugarcoated swagger with parping trombone, pedal steel, plastic strings and – most impressively of all – harmonised lead guitar that doesn’t bring Rocksucker out in a rash (prone as we are to the weathering effects of ’80s stadium rock). Ending with creepy circus organ and backwards tape sounds may be a tad on the obvious side, but after a song that good it’s certainly getting the benefit of our doubt.
Similarly, “Dark Haired Douglas” ends with a riff that errs a little too close to “Paperback Writer” but is already well in credit for the preceding round of bouncy 7th chords featuring more simple yet fantastically effective guitar work. “Psychedelic Sarah” is kind of like a cross between The Monkeys’ “I’m a Believer” and Dave Davies’s “Lincoln County”, and “Trapped” brings proceedings to a close on a smart note, organ a-tootin’ alongside an agreeably addled sounding vocal. Hopefully a second full-length album is forthcoming.
Those who were drawn in by the swinging sixties vibe of Mordecai Smyth's debut "Sticky Tape & Rust" have another treat in store for them with the release of his new E.P "Dial M For Mordecai".
Murder is not on the menu, despite the Hitchcock referencing title and sleeve art however - Mordecai and his very able henchmen continue to do what they do best here, namely smart, melodic pop songs that draw from the Ray Davies school of character study, presented in a fashion that suggests tea on the village green more than popping hallucinogenics in swinging London.
Mr Smyth explains it better himself : "Imagine that the subconscious were a village. If so, the collective subconscious of Mordecai Smyth would be a vibrant community. A place where you would love to live. Not conventional, but a virtual 'Stella Street' of eccentric personas. A land where Barrett, Waits, Ayers, Stanshall and Cutler mix with The Kinks, The Who and The Beatles for high tea and the most outrageous blackberry jam sessions."
Opener "Dream On" is the biggest departure so far - still the sort of bouncy, yet melancholy tuneage that Smyth and Co. seem to be able to pull from their sleeve with alarming ease, but dressed in delicately aching slide guitars (think Floyd's "Meddle"), walls of mellotron and a vibrant backwards guitar outro that suggests the Smyth crew have discovered psychedelia and prog rock simultaneously.
Elsewhere, the territory is more familiar - mod pop anthems, with all of the influences that one would expect were this recorded back in 1966.
Certainly in lesser hands this could tread perilously close to Austin Powers territory, but such is Mordecai's craft that all traces of kitsch are swiftly banished.
Highly recommended for lovers of vintage sixties guitar pop with a slight dash of the politely sinister.
English musician and honorary Palatine, IL resident (my doing, actually), Mordecai Smyth, has once again emerged from his laboratory with a fun mixture up of original British Invasion rock and spooky imagery. A fascination with Alfred Hitchcock that manifested itself in “Mr. Hitchcock” on his debut, Sticky Tape And Rust, is evident once again on this new EP’s title and cover art. But there are no witches or killers on Dial M For Mordecai; just the odd sensation of losing oneself in an abyss.
On “Trapped,” a mid-tempo song built with guitars and keyboards, a bout of nasty weather turns into something more sinister. The peppier “Psychedelic Sarah” has a more pleasant vibe, but still conjures a mind-altering experience. The remaining three tracks offer more down-to-earth tales, such as “Dream On,” which depicts a lonely woman whose only escape from her dreadfully dull existence is to lose herself in daydreams. “In her life there is no change,” Smyth sings. “There’s nothing to enjoy.”
The opening guitar on “Dark Haired Douglas” evokes a mid-1960s Beatles hit before the song switches to a Kinks-like satire. The title character fancies himself an irresistible ladies man but meets his match when he’s snubbed by a gorgeous woman in a trendy rock club. A Beatles/Kinks mash-up occurs again when Smyth covers the Ray Davies-penned “See My Friends.” This new version has a more overtly psychedelic arrangement that drifts naturally into “Norwegian Wood.”
That it works so well is further testament to Mordecai Smyth’s knowledge and affection for classic 1960s pop.
Broken Hearted Toy
More praise for Mordecai Smyth:
Mark Wirtz, record producer and songwriter: "Mordecai Smyth, to say I like the recordings would be an understatement. They are veritable neo-retro pop-rock gems which recall their influences and origins of inspiration with such loving and respectful fidelity, that it is impossible not be captivated by their undeniable, musical charm. Did I actually use the word charm in connection with rock tracks? Yes. This is not crack-grinding garage rock by any means - more like elegant and finely crafted boutique pop'n'roll, to be served with Grand Marnier and After Eight mints!"
Dave Lambert, guitarist with Fire and Strawbs: "I've had a look, and listen, to the songs on your site and still find it amazing how you manage to capture that very English 60's atmosphere. If I cast my mind back to those years the recordings would slot neatly into any radio play-list of the day. The recordings are very well performed and produced, I'd certainly be proud of them if they were mine."
Sticky Tape & Rust Reviews
To the uninitiated, Mordecai Smyth is a neo-psych quartet who sound as thought they were collectively spoon-fed Birthday Party by The Idle Race since, well, birth. Imagine Syd Barrett if the darkness had never descended upon his muse - the playful Syd Barrett of 'The Gnome' and 'Candy And A Currant Bun' - and you're halfway there. Even when the lyrics are flecked with darkness ('Almost Murder Ballad'), the album remains as unremittingly jolly as a Butlins' Redcoat inhaling nitrous oxide. 'Sinister Cyclist' and 'Georgina Jones' share jaunty top honours. ”
Berkshire's Mordecai Smyth clearly adore the wayward souls of the 60s. On their debut Sticky Tape and Rust they sound like Madness playing the greatest hits of Syd [Barrett], July and the Bonzos — which is no bad thing.
You’d expect to encounter a certain amount of silliness on the debut from a band called Mordecai Smyth, and Sticky Tape & Rust offers plenty along those lines. Signed to the fledgling indie label Mega Dodo, Mordecai Smyth draws upon the satirical side of the original British Invasion, with an added dose of vintage movies and TV shows. The lyrics often deal with murder, mayhem, and the supernatural, but in such an absurd way, listeners are more likely to be amused than frightened. The spooky “Mr. Hitchcock” uses a more modern power pop arrangement, while “Don’t Cross Colin” taps into The Undertones, as well as The Who’s “Happy Jack.” “Almost Murder Ballad” is a dark tale of a guy whose various attempts to bump off his lover all fail until he decides to just give up, but for true romantics, there’s some innocent, old-time crooning on “I Love You.” If you’re still looking for some songs for your Halloween party playlist, you can’t go wrong with Mordecai Smyth
Broken Hearted Toy
The Buzz: The first album to be released by new label Mega Dodo, Mordecai Smyth are…well, there’s not a whole lot of information to go off. See what you can glean from their website.
Sounds like: A selection of late-‘60s Kinks outtakes; that’s very much a compliment, in case you were wondering. Opener “Mr. Hitchcock” (probably not named after my old English teacher, as wonderful as that would be) rides on a riff that’s suspiciously similar to that from The Beatles’ “Run For Your Life”, yet resoundingly elicits forgiveness by dint of its understated jollity and obvious knack for melody. That, along with the instantly endearing, Ray Davies/Stuart Murdoch-esque lead vocal (we don’t know who to credit for this, such little information is provided about the band), bodes well for the rest of the album and it doesn’t disappoint.
“Herbert Frowsy” flaunts a delicious oboe-‘n’-strings arrangement atop an English country garden trot that could almost rival “Autumn Almanac”, while “Almost Murder Ballad” sounds impossibly innocent given the string of attempted killings professed to in its lyric (“I threw you in the sea, but you swam back to me / I pushed you out of a plane, but you flew back again”), another sharp melodic twist in the chorus keeping matters within the realms of quality songwriting, and just out of the daft clutches of excessive whimsy.
It’s impossible not to reel out the obvious reference points of vintage English psychedelia – Syd Barrett, Small Faces, Kevin Ayers, Sell Out-era The Who etc. – but the songs remain strong throughout, while songs such as “Sinister Cyclist” and “Don’t Cross Colin” infuse these more retro aspects with a wry, Half Man Half Biscuit-like humour that can’t help but endear.
When “Big Hit” tells of a man who is “a big cheese at the new exclusive restaurant” and always trying on ladies’ underwear, you might suddenly feel the urge to throw on Face to Face, but the ‘sunshine nostalgia’ harmonies of “Here I Stand” and sly, creeping organ of closer “Georgina Jones” point towards a band that would struggle to write a bad song even if they tried. Welcome Mordecai Smyth!
In a few words: Unceasingly playful and breezily melodic; familiar yet strange and ultimately pleasing, like a pint of bitter with Ray Davies' face etched into the foam like a clover on a Guinness.
Like a cross between: Face to Face-era Kinks and Misty’s Big Adventure.